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Jumping Around Can Help Kids Learn Math

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Sitting quietly at a desk may be the preferred behavior for elementary-school students, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way for them to learn. Researchers in Denmark have found that integrating whole-body movement into math lessons can significantly boost kids’ test scores. They published their research in the journal Frontiers of Human Neuroscience

We all know that being active is good for our whole bodies. Recent studies have shown that those benefits reach all the way into the brain for both adults and kids. Intense exertion—the kind that gets your heart rate up—may improve alertness, and is linked to improved motor skills, sharper thinking, and better grades.

So we know that exercise can boost our brainpower. But can it help us learn? To find out, health scientists at the University of Copenhagen created a movement-centric, six-week math curriculum for elementary students. They recruited 165 pupils, all around the age of 7, and divided them into three groups. Some classes were given math lessons three times a week that required them to use their whole bodies (gross motor skills). They jumped, skipped, and crawled around the classroom, all while solving math problems.

Classes in the second group were sedentary but added fine motor skill activities to their lessons—that is, the students were asked to use LEGO bricks to help them solve math problems. 

Kids in the third group, the control group, had their normal math instruction.

All the students were given standardized math tests before, immediately after, and eight weeks after the experiment. (Standardized test scores are not necessarily the best way to measure kids’ understanding, but they do provide a quantitative baseline by which to gauge improvement over the course of an experiment.) 

Over the course of the six-week study, all three groups’ scores improved, but there was a clear winner. Kids in the crawling-skipping-jumping group saw the biggest boost in their scores, improving twice as much as students in the LEGO classes. The upswing in the gross motor skills group’s test scores was modest—about 7.6 percent—but still significant.

“We need to keep this in mind when developing new forms of instruction,” lead author Jacob Wienecke said in a statement.

Unfortunately, the score bump was not universal. Kids who struggled with math at the beginning of the study were still struggling afterward.

“Individual understanding must be taken into account,” Wienecke said. “Otherwise, we risk an unfortunate combined outcome in which those who are already proficient advance, and those who have not yet mastered concepts cannot keep up." 

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entertainment
Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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BBC

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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Animals
These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program

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